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Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences

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Environmental Studies and Sciences News & Events

  •  SCU research sheds light on how plant species invade

    Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012

      

    It’s always been a bit of a puzzle—why do some species that get introduced outside their native areas become terrible invasive pests, while others either die out or poke along without bothering anyone? Recent research by ESS professor Virginia Matzek has helped shed more light on this question.

     One longstanding theory about plant invaders is that they have greater plasticity than non-invaders. Plasticity is the ability to react to local conditions with different appearances or behaviors—for instance, the way a houseplant deprived of light will stretch out longer stems and make fewer leaves than well-lit plants. If invasive species are more inherently flexible in how they react to climate, for instance, they may be able to invade a wider area than less plastic species.

     Matzek grew ten species of pines in the greenhouse—five that were known to be invasive on at least two continents, and five that had been widely introduced around the world but had never shown invasive characteristics. By altering nitrogen availability to the two groups, she could see how plant traits like photosynthetic capacity and water-use efficiency reacted to high or low levels of resource availability.

     Matzek found that invaders were not more plastic for any of the 17 traits she measured. Instead, invaders seemed to succeed by simply being better than non-invaders at a number of essential plant functions, including producing more leaves and more efficiently using nutrients for photosynthesis.

     Many studies have compared plasticity in invader and non-invader groups, but this study was a step forward because all the species were closely related, so differences between the invasive and non-invasive species are likely to be essential to their invasiveness. The paper, “Trait values, not trait plasticity, best explain invasive species’ performance in a changing environment,” was published in PLOS One and can be read here.

  •  What is Conservation Science?

    Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012

    Efforts to protect nature and prevent extinction of plants and animals have traditionally focused on fencing nature off from people. But as the human population climbs toward 9 billion or more, Peter Kareiva and Michelle Marvier of SCU's Dept of ESS argue that conservationists must pursue strategies that simultaneously protect nature and meet basic human needs.

    The full article was published this month in the journal Bioscience and is available via JSTOR.

  •  SCU Baja program reinvigorates Natural History pedagogy

    Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012

     

    In the era of molecular biology, some might think of collegiate courses in natural history as being a bit “old school,” a return to Victorian times when naturalists such as Charles Darwin ruled the roost.  Nothing could be further from the truth according to SCU scholars John Farnsworth and Christopher Beatty, who just published a paper in the Journal of Natural History Education and Experience.

    Beatty and Farnsworth have both been associated with SCU Studies Abroad in Baja, the former teaching ENVS 144, Baja Natural History, and the latter teaching ENVS 142, Writing Natural History.  They see a key linkage between their courses as the development of powers of observation, especially in the process where observations lead to identification which in turn leads to description.  They write, “Adeptness in description links directly to the ability to observe, and we find this prerequisite lacking among some of our students when they enter the program.” 

    The Baja program, now in its sixth year under Farnsworth’s direction, has emerged as a national model of how writing pedagogy can combine with experiential education in natural history to create a program that engages students uniquely. The program has become so popular in recent years that it is now limited to juniors and seniors majoring in environmental science, biology, or environmental studies. The program website can be found here 

    According to Farnsworth and Beatty, the key to the program’s success has been in how it utilizes a journaling process to organize field notes. During the field portion of the class, students are required to keep more than mere species lists, making observations about behaviors and the habitats in which they discover organisms.  The students are assigned writing prompts for each class, and are instructed to spend at least two hours each day working on their field notes.

    The paper, titled: “The Journal’s the Thing: Teaching Natural History and Nature Writing in Baja California Sur” is available via the Natural History Network website.

  •  New Study: Political Affiliation, Minorities, and Nature’s Services

    Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012

    New analysis on the intersection of politics and nature was released today in the latest issue of the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences. The authors, Michelle Marvier of Santa Clara University and Hazel Wong of The Nature Conservancy, drew from national public opinion surveys from last eight years. 

    The work may provide insight to the coming elections on November 6, when more than 60 conservation-related state initiatives will be decided by voters across the country.

    Their analysis highlights several findings:

    • More than three-quarters of those polled believed the United States could have both a strong economy and good land and water protections. (To date Gallup polls have only framed this question as jobs versus the environment).  
    •  A majority of Americans, including 51.4% of Republicans, would be willing to accept a small increase in state or local taxes to pay for land and water protections.
    • Voters of color were much more likely than white voters to think that natural services (such as the production of marketable products and storm protection) are “extremely important”.
    •  Conservation communities’ emphasis on protecting  nature for its intrinsic values isn’t appealing to self- identified Republicans and Independents. They see nature benefits such of clean water, recreation and economics as reasons for conserving land, water and wildlife.

    “These studies reveal that Americans care deeply about the outdoors, and the benefits that nature provides us,” said co-author Hazel Wong.  “Our elected officials around the country should be aware that it’s in their interest to be responsive to nature’s strong, bipartisan constituency.”

    Michelle Marvier commented, “It’s time for conservationists to quit preaching only to the choir. Protecting nature for its own sake is all well and good, but to regain broad public support we need to emphasize and demonstrate that protecting nature is in the best interest of people.”

    The paper's abstract can be accessed here.

  •  Recent ESS grad spends summer working on food security in Nicaragua

    Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012

    Recent ESS graduate, Ian Dougherty worked this past summer with Dr. Chris Bacon on food security and sustainable livelihoods research in northern Nicaragua. Dr. Bacon used support from a Center for Science and Technology Studies grant for frugal innovation to bring Ian to Nicaragua. Ian worked with a local fair trade cooperative and an international non-profit organization to set-up a pilot project using cell phones to monitor transactions among several community-based grain and seed banks. The goals are to reduce seasonal hunger, empower farmers and conserve biodiversity. Upon his return from Nicaragua, NBC Bay Area interviewed Ian about his experience. Check out the video of the NBC interview.

  •  ESS has a new home!

    Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012

    ESS has a new home!

    The Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences has a new home on the second floor of Varsi Hall.

    Although we’ll miss our old location (a lovely house off the edge of campus), we’re excited to be situated closer to the heart of campus. We now have a larger number of offices to support our growing faculty. One of the most exciting developments is that we will have a dedicated GIS lab on our floor. The lab will hopefully be up and running by winter of 2013.

    Stop by and visit us in our new location!

    • lobby    Leah Nakasaki
    • 203       Lindsey Cromwell (Office of Sustainability)
    • 204       Leslie Gray
    • 214       Stephanie Hughes
    • 215       Peter Kareiva
    • 216       Michelle Marvier (Dept. Chair)
    • 217       Virginia Matzek
    • 218       Chris Bacon
    • 219       Iris Stewart-Frey
    • 220       John Farnsworth
    • 221       Joanna Johnson
  •  Intro courses come first!

    Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012

    Our ES majors are a bit unorthodox. And we love that about you. But there are some things that really should be done by the book. For example, our introductory courses ENVS 21, 22, and 23 are just that – introductory. If you dive straight into our more advanced courses, you will end up super bored taking ENVS 21 in the last quarter of your senior year. Trust us on this – we hear the complaints!

    To help you get your life in better order, we will be phasing in pre-requisites on many of our upper division courses.

    Q&A on prerequisites

    What’s in it for me?

    1.      You won’t end up totally bored taking intro ENVS courses in your final year of school.

    2.      We will be able to pump up the rigor and expectations for our upper division courses because we assume everyone in the room understands the basics.

    Why didn’t the department do this sooner?

    We now have enough majors (about 150 majors across all four years) that we can start to enforce prerequisites and still get large enough enrollments in our classes.

    What if I didn’t plan ahead?

    Don’t panic. We will phase the prerequisites in over the next couple of years. This year, you will see for example that the prerequisite for ENVS 115 GIS is “ENVS 21 or 23 recommended.” See how gentle that is? We say “recommended”, not “required.” But this will change over the next couple of years to “ENVS 21 or 23 required” and eventually “ENVS 21 and 23 required.” So, start doing things in the right order now and your whole life will be way far happier.

    What about the capstone course?

    ENVS 101 Environmental Capstone is a culminating research intensive course where you apply your skills and knowledge to a pressing environmental question. The prerequisites for this course are “ENVS 21, 22, 23 and senior class standing. ENVS 110 or 115 strongly recommended.” The only exception to the “senior class standing” part is if you will be studying abroad in winter of your senior year. Other exceptions will require the instructor’s permission.

    Ooops – I need to take ENVS 21, 22, or 23 soon!

    Good news – We will be offering both ENVS 21 and ENVS 22 in the fall, winter, and spring quarters this year. ENVS 23 will be offered in fall and winter. Remember to take advantage of preregistration to reserve your spot early.

  •  Mono Lake will be further stressed by climate change

    Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012

     

    California’s Mono Lake is already a fragile, water-limited ecosystem, but new research by SCU researchers suggests that global climate change will substantially aggravate problems in the Mono Lake Basin.

    SCU faculty members Iris Stewart-Frey (ESS), Ed Maurer (Civil Engineering), and Darren Ficklin (ESS) used downscaled climate models and hydrologic models to project the future conditions in the Mono Lake Basin. Their models suggest that by the end of this century, Mono Lake will likely experience a 15% decrease in annual streamflow, earlier peak snowmelt runoff (shifted from June to May), a decreased occurrence of ‘wet’ hydrologic years, and more frequent drought conditions.

    Under a 1983 ruling, the water diversions away from Mono Lake are carefully balanced with the ecological needs of the lake ecosystem. However, this balance has been struck without detailed consideration of the effects of global climate change. This new research suggests that both ecosystem health and water diversions may be affected by reduced water availability in the Mono Lake Basin by the end of the century.

    A paper describing this research has been accepted to the journal Climatic Change. 

     

    Mono Lake from NASA.gov
  •  ESS faculty & students reflect on experiential learning for food justice

    Wednesday, Jun. 20, 2012

    ESS faculty members Leslie Gray and Joanna Johnson have published an essay with undergraduate student Michelle Tang, alumnus Ann Thomas, and Americorps volunteer Nicole Latham in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development.

    Their essay reflects on Santa Clara University's forays into experiential learning around food justice through the Bronco Urban Gardens (BUG) program. BUG works with urban schools and a community center in San José, California, using a garden-based education approach. The authors discuss the motivations for experiential learning for social justice and its connection to food justice. They also explore the challenge of working with students and community partners where the interests of both groups must be served.

    Click here for the paper's abstract.

  •  2012 Lucky Hinkle Sustainability Awardees - Laughlin Barker and Tim Carlson

    Friday, Jun. 1, 2012

    The Lucky Hinkle Sustainability Award was established to honor the memory of Lucky Hinkle, longtime University staff member who worked diligently to promote recycling on campus, and is given to the graduating senior with a declared major in Environmental Science or Environmental Studies who, in the judgment of the ESS faculty, has made the most significant contribution to promoting a culture of sustainability at Santa Clara University and beyond. This year, the ESS faculty chose two awardees: Laughlin Barker and Tim Carlson.

    Laughlin Barker has been a leader of student environmental groups on campus. Most notably, he helped with the inception of B-LEJIT (Bronco Leaders of Environmental Justice Investigating Truth) and in his Junior year he co-directed B-LEJIT and saw the club through a successful transition into SCCAP (Santa Clara Community Action Program). Also in his junior year, Laughlin was awarded a grant from the EPA for research and design of Reversible Hydrogen Fuel Cells with the late Prof. Dan Strickland. This year, his Senior Design Project is the “Design of a Low- Profile Solar Tracker with Hybridized Control.” Outside SCU, Laughlin volunteers as an activist and trainer with several organizations committed to social and environmental issues.

    Tim Carlson has also been a leader of student environmental groups, including B LEJIT. Within B LEJIT he was involved in: Tunnel of Oppression (showing the human costs of e waste in 2010 and mountaintop removal in 2011); Toxics Tours in 2010 and 2011, which highlighted five toxic sites near SCU; a Chase bank mountaintop removal divestment campaign; campaigns (2010 and present) to have a fair trade/beyond fair trade coffee option on-campus. Like Laughlin, Tim also played a role in B LEJIT becoming a program within SCCAP. Tim is now in a mentorship position as Empowerment Department Coordinator for SCCAP. In addition, Tim completed a weekly B.U.G. placement at Gardner Middle School in Fall 2010, and has been involved with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for the past three years, an off-campus food and labor organization which he brought to the Santa Clara Community through speakers and actions on their Trader Joe's campaign.

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